Paso Robles considers another water rate hike

Paso Robles may raise water rates again, on top of an already scheduled increase related to the Nacimiento Water Project.

Without the proposed rate hike, the city’s water operations fund would go broke by fiscal year 2022-2023, according to the city.

The proposed rate increase would start Jan. 1, 2017, and reinstate a monthly fixed charge that was dropped in 2011, as well as raise the per-unit cost of water in annual increments of about 40 cents through Jan. 1, 2021. The fixed charge would be lower than in the past.

The City Council will consider the proposal at its meeting Tuesday.

Additional revenue is needed to maintain the city’s water storage and distribution systems due “to previous delays in adopting rates, overall community water conservation, and significantly lower water sales in response to the drought,” according to the proposal report.

The water operations fund is in trouble, at least in part, because water bills don’t have a fixed charge per account as they did before 2011. The fixed feewas dropped at that time amid the city’s five-year struggle to adopt rate increases related to Nacimiento.

The city is considering reinstating the fixed charge, although at a lesser amount, because 80 percent of operating expenses are fixed costs throughout the year, according to the proposal. Examples of such fixed costs are utility billing, administration, labor and equipment maintenance.

Tuesday’s proposal will be the city’s newest rate hike structure since Paso Robles was embroiled in controversy during a series of public protests from 2007 to 2011 related to rate increases to help pay for the city’s share of the 45-mile pipeline that delivers supplemental drinking water from Lake Nacimiento. The delays in adopting those rate increases meant the city has been late in building a treatment plant to make the lake water drinkable. That plant is now built but is still in the testing phase and slated to open in late November.

In 2011, the water rate structure that was finally approved, dropped an $18 fixed fee beginning with 2012 water bills and raised rates to $2.50 from $1.32 per unit (per 748 gallons used). Since then, users’ rates have increased incrementally. Today, water rates are $4.10 per unit.

That amount will rise to $4.40 per unit in January 2016 as the last increase related to the Nacimiento project.

The proposed structure would increase water rates from $4.40 per unit in January 2016 to $6.56 per unit in January 2021.

The monthly fixed fee would go from $0 in January 2016, to $5 in January 2017, $6.25 in January 2018, $7.50 in January 2019, $8.75 in January 2020 and $10 in January 2021.

Tonya Strickland: 805-781-7858, @tstrickland

If you go:

The Paso Robles City Council will meet Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. at the Library/City Hall Conference Center, 1000 Spring St. Download the agenda here.